Dealing with Asperger's children

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Al-Watan newspaper

THE weather was wonderful that day, but my colleague at work was quite sad. She was crying and I took her out of the building to discuss her problem.

She said, "My son has Asperger's syndrome," which is a developmental disorder affecting the ability to socialize and communicate.

She continued: "When he reached a year and half, I noticed that he does not speak much, not because he did not know how to speak, but because he did not want to talk to strangers. At the same time, he was very responsive to me.

"When the boy started kindergarten he refused to cooperate with the teacher on the first day. Although he knew the names of colors, letters and animals in both languages, I realized that he was a child with different capabilities, but I did not know the extent of this difference.

"When he reached Grade 2 in primary school I received a complaint from the teacher that my son was messy and careless. The child once threw his bag in the middle of the classroom and then came back to his seat. When the teacher raised the bag and asked whose it was he did not respond.

But he expressed his surprise when the teacher opened the bag and read his name.

"From that day everything started. I began my journey to find out what made him different — a difference that I could feel in him, but I did not know what it was.

"It is something that allows him to eat only a specific food and makes him sleep with difficulty. He does not know how to cut his nails, or rub himself when taking bath, not because he does not like cleanliness, but because anything touching his body hurt him."

He was diagnosed with Asperger's syndrome, a high-functioning autism spectrum that affects one in every 250 children, with males suffering from the condition more than females by 9 to 2. The doctor's diagnosis did not convince my friend and she wanted to know how her child became one of the 250 and did a lot of research until she found out that it was true.

Most children affected by the syndrome have certain common characteristics, notably the inability to communicate with others and the use of ordinary language of dialogue. They will not be able to understand the insinuations or hints that have social connotations. Everything should be direct and clear. It was difficult for him to make friends for a long time.

My friend continued: "I was learned the names of his colleagues and created a suitable social environment to strengthen his friendships. A child with Asperger's syndrome will not look in the eyes of a person while talking to him. I trained him to look in his father's eyes as well as his teachers' and colleagues'. Actually he was looking in my eyes without any training. Doctors do not know he looks in the eyes of people whom he loves or wants to be with him.

"His adherence to daily routine and his unwillingness to change, prompted me to try to break the stereotype that includes his way of thinking, food and clothes. For example, he can speak extensively on the latest technological inventions without boredom, but when he does not find a specific shirt or a specific type of shoes he becomes upset and will not be able to get out of that condition easily. When he wears clothes without intervention he comes out in a way that looks strange to others.

"Sometimes, I leave him wear what he wanted to make him happy. But I cannot tell the world that my child has Asperger's and explain to them the strangeness of his actions, because they deal with him like a patient without understanding the points of difference he has."

The school's negative response was depressive as they placed him in the class of students having learning difficulties. They did it based on a wrong understanding of his condition and simply because he refused to cooperate with his class teacher.

Instead of dealing with him as a different child and training teachers how to deal with children with Asperger's syndrome, they did everything that caused him tension such as talking to him loudly and sometimes shouting at him. These actions annoy children with Asperger's.

My friend stopped talking for a while as she wanted to wipe her tears.

She later said: "He will not be able to get acclimatized with any sudden change because it increases his tension and mental suffering. For example, when the teacher announces a surprise test he gets confused. This prevents him from answering questions and he gets out of the exam hall early to escape from the source of tension. Despite the deep knowledge he has, he would not be able to answer questions because of the surprise that made him nervous."

She took a deep breath and left quietly.

After listening to her story, we can convincingly say that the rehabilitation and training programs associated with children suffering from autism and Down's and Asperger's syndromes are weak and need total change. These programs currently focus on training children of different abilities and their families. Actually, those who need training are people in a wider circle.

If the awareness and training programs had covered all those who are associated with children of different abilities their lives would have been much better. In the end, I would like to point out that it is we who need education and not them (the children with Asperger's).


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